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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Parnasso in festa, per gli sponsali di Teti e Peleo HWV 73
David Hansen (Countertenor), Apollo; Robin Johannsen (Soprano), Clio; Kangmin Justin Kim (Countertenor), Orfeo; Jenny Högström (Soprano), Calliope; Silke Gäng (Mezzosoprano), Cloride; Francesca Ascioti (Alto), Euterpe; Luca Tittoto (Bass), Marte, La Cetra Barockorchester & Vokalensemble Basel/Marcon
rec. live, Martinskirche Basel, Switzerland, 2016
Reviewed in surround 5.0 PENTATONE PTC5186643SACD [2 discs: 116:35]
The Royal Wedding of 1734 was between Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, and the Dutch Prince William IV of Orange. It took place on 14th March at St James' Palace. Handel contributed music for both the ceremony itself and for the subsequent public celebrations. One can do no better than quote, from Teresa Ramer-Wünsche's excellent booklet notes, the wording of an advertisement placed in The Daily Advertiser three days before:
" ... there is to be perform'd, at the Opera-house in the Hay-Market, on Wednesday next, a Serenata, call'd, Parnasso in Festa: The fable is Apollo and the Muses celebrating the Marriage of Thetis and Peleus ... the whole Appearance being extreamly magnificent; nor is the Musick less entertaining, being contriv'd with so great a Variety, that all sorts of Musick are properly introduc'd in single Songs, Duettos, &c. intermix'd with Chorus's something in the Stile of Oratorios. People have been waiting with Impatience for this Piece, the celebrated Mr Handel having exerted his utmost Skill in it."
Handel being the most pragmatic of composers, the music was indeed "contrived" rather than composed. No less than twenty of the thirty-three numbers were taken from his oratorio Athalia which, though it had been performed in Oxford, had not yet reached London audiences. Apart from nine numbers and the overture, only the words were new. It is quite likely that some of his royal listeners were pleased to have this preview of the Athalia music before the rest of London's audience heard it at the beginning of the following year, 1735. To provide the necessary dramatic contrasts in his Serenata, Handel's text included not only the usual moralising about marriage that was appropriate for a wedding celebration, but also references two less happy relationships, those of Apollo and Daphne and of Orpheus and Eurydice, drawing from these lessons not about happiness but about constancy. As a result of all this "contriving", Parnasso in festa is a series of Handel's best ideas from the mid-1730s and makes for the most splendid listening. Those who have kept away from Handel's operas might well be encouraged back by this display of wonderful, lively and varied music. It is a truly first class display.
Andrea Marcon and his La Cetra forces are joined in this partially live recording by some of the best voices in the world of baroque performance. The whole thing is superbly sung and played and seems, from the publicity photos in the booklet, to have pleased the performers hugely. The recording includes enthusiastic audience applause at the ends of sections to prove they too were impressed. Marcon's many recordings have taught us that he goes for strong rhythms and encourages his continuo instrumentalists to be imaginative. All this is evident in this brilliantly recorded issue.
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